Weight Loss Tips for Cats

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A survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity in 2012 found that a staggering 58% of America’s cats are overweight or obese. These statistics mirror the equally disturbing increase in human obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one third of adults in the United States are obese. Our weight loss tips will help your cats reach and maintain a healthy weight.

The serious health problems in cats which result from obesity are the same as in humans:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis, joint problems and and torn or strained ligaments
  • Heart and respiratory problems
  • Gastro-intestinal and digestive problems
  • Compromised immune system
  • Increased risk during anesthesia and surgery

Because food is so often associated with love, we are, quite literally, killing our cats with kindness. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, a feline veterinarian and owner of two cat practices, has found that “the closer the relationship a guardian has with his or her cats, the more likely a cat is to be obese.”

How cats prefer to eat

Cats are, by nature, solitary hunters who prefer to eat alone. “We think of eating as hospitality,” says Colleran. “Cats don’t.” Cats in the wild will eat multiple small meals a day, and of course, they will hunt down their prey. This is one of the reasons why free choice feeding (leaving food out at all times) is such a bad idea, and a major contributor to the obesity epidemic we’re seeing in cats. If food is available all the time, most cats will eat it.

“Feed as many small meals a day as you can,” says Colleran. “The more (small) meals you feed, the more active cats will be.”

What to feed for weight loss

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat not only to survive, but to thrive. The optimal diet for a cat is a properly formulated raw, home-cooked or premium grain-free canned diet. Cats should never eat dry food, even the grain-free dry varieties are too high in carbohydrates. I do not recommend diets marketed as weight-loss diets, especially not the veterinary prescription diets. Most are too high in carbohydrates, and contain by-products and fillers. Eating carbs does not create a feeling of being satiated, only protein can do that.

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How much to feed for weight loss

Cats need to lose weight slowly and gradually. “Healthy weight loss is about two ounces a week,” says Dr. Colleran. This is especially important for seriously overweight cats. When food intake is cut too quickly in obese cats, they can develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease,) a potentially life threatening condition.

Dr. Colleran advises to feed 40-50 Kcal per kilogram (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, 1 pound equals 0.45 kilograms) times the cat’s target weight times 60-70%. This means that if your cat’s target weight is 10 pounds, she should eat between 108 and 157 Kcal per day.

This is quite a bit less than what the recommendations on a can or bag of food will tell you to feed. As a result, Dr. Colleran spends a lot of time helping her clients separate pet food marketing from medical issues. “Unfortunately, cat food manufacturers give a lot of false information to pet owners,” says Dr. Colleran. Additionally, she says, “many of the prescription diets for weight loss are actually inadequate at maintaining lean body mass.”

Once your cat has reached her desired weight, feed between 24 to 35 calories per pound of body weight per day to keep an average adult cat at a healthy, normal weight.

Environmental enrichment needs to be part of a weight loss program

Environmental enrichment is critical to ensure successful weight loss. Play offers cats a way to exercise and to keep them burn off energy. Toys that mimic predatory behavior, such as interactive wand toys, are a great way to not only encourage play, but for cat and human to bond. Puzzle toys keep cats mentally challenged.

Supplements to aid with weight loss

Never give supplements for human weight loss to cats. I don’t even consider many of the human weight loss supplements safe for humans, and they certainly won’t be safe for cats.

L-Carnitine has been shown to have positive metabolic effects in cats. L-Lysine may help diminish the loss of lean body mass. Omega-3 supplements have been shown to promote weight loss in humans, and are a good daily supplement for all cats, even healthy cats.

This article was first published August 31, 2015, and has been updated.

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25 Comments on Weight Loss Tips for Cats

  1. Janine
    November 18, 2019 at 8:28 am (3 weeks ago)

    I always appreciate your tips. I often think I get better advice from you than I get from my vet.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 18, 2019 at 5:44 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Awww, thanks, Janine!

      Reply
  2. kat
    November 18, 2019 at 7:32 am (3 weeks ago)

    hi Ingrid, first how is allegra doing? better I hope. hug from me. this article was quite interesting. have 17lb cat needing to lose weight. currently isnt eating too well due to not being able to smell his food (nose stopped up). cats are currently eating (vet suggested) RC gastrofiber (dry)(female), RC satiaty dry (overweight), and 1 tsp x 2 day of purina pro plan canned. female has lost muscle tone. ok – what and how much should I be feeding the overweight for him to lose safely, and what/how much should I feed female to put muscle tone on her (she has constipation problem) (skin/bones, often upchucks in early am, food/phlegm). prefer your advice – obviously vets isnt working for either; not another vet within range. thanks!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 18, 2019 at 8:46 am (3 weeks ago)

      Allegra is doing just fine, Kat – Ruby is the one who is sick, and she’s doing as well as can be. Thank you for asking!

      The article explains in detail what to feed and how to calculate amounts to feed based on your cat’s target weight. Ditch the RC prescription diets, find a good quality grain-free canned food (you can find my recommendations here: https://consciouscat.net/2012/03/22/the-best-food-for-your-cat/ If you need more personalized advice, I’d be happy to schedule a consultation.

      Reply
  3. Ann T Seeber
    November 18, 2019 at 7:05 am (3 weeks ago)

    At your recommendation I bought some Dr. Goodpet Feline Supplement but am confused as to how to measure the dose. My 9 yr old male black’s weight is on target, though he does get about 2T daily of Instinct dry and 3 oz canned wet and 15 Instinct freeze dried raw topper nuggets, all spread out over 4 meals. His vet prescribed probiotics for his chronic conjunctivitis and he’s lost all his teeth to re-absorption or stomatitis. Since going on the probiotics he has had no flare-ups in his eyes and seems more active and relaxed. I’m experimenting with brands of probiotics but Dr Goodpet doesn’t seem to come a measurer. How much should I give?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 18, 2019 at 8:49 am (3 weeks ago)

      I recommend about 1/4 of a teaspoon per day, divided between meals for a 10 pound cat. Since you’re feeding four times a day, I’d divide into two meals, 1/8 of a teaspoon per meal. Adjust amounts accordingly if your cat weighs more. You can’t overdose probiotics, so don’t worry about giving too much.

      Reply
      • Ann T Seeber
        November 19, 2019 at 5:19 am (3 weeks ago)

        Thank you, Ingrid. Hugs to Ruby and Allegra!

        Reply
  4. Sally Hudson
    June 10, 2019 at 12:46 pm (6 months ago)

    I made the mistake of leaving dry food readily available for my cats. And topping it up whenever they asked. As a result they gained weight without me really noticing even though I’m usually pretty observant when it comes to my animals. It’s taken me two years of careful dieting to get them down to a healthier weight. I wish I had read some of your articles when I started this journey but at least I can take lots of ideas from these to help me keep them at a healthy weight for the future. Thanks

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 11, 2019 at 5:35 am (6 months ago)

      I’m glad my articles are helpful, Sally.

      Reply
  5. MW
    February 1, 2018 at 7:03 am (2 years ago)

    Hello, forgive me if this has already been asked but I see comments have been pouring in for over three years on this topic and I can’t read them all! I have two cats, one at about 12 lbs and one at about 17. I’m frustrated and confused by the directions on cat food cans and the available sizes (3 or 5.5 oz) here in the U.S. my smaller cat feels too thin and the larger one is definitely chubby. I currently feed them 3.5 oz in the morning and again 3.5 oz around 6 pm. Is this too little?

    Reply
      • MW
        February 2, 2018 at 1:53 pm (2 years ago)

        Hello, thank you for posting the articles. Calories are not disclosed on the cat food cans that I have, and I don’t know what my cats should weigh, so unfortunately the articles won’t help me. I’ve been searching online for guidance on how much to feed them for years and can’t figure out why it’s so hard to find that out. I will have to bring them to the vet when I can afford to do so.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          February 2, 2018 at 2:45 pm (2 years ago)

          Most pet food manufacturers will list calories on their websites, or you can call them. To get a rough idea of how much your cats weigh, weigh yourself, then weigh yourself with your cat.

          Reply
  6. Deborah starks
    January 16, 2018 at 10:04 pm (2 years ago)

    I add a little cat-nip to their toys n put some cat-nip in a plastic container n swap out toys from the container. Some of the cats like it n some can care less. Oh, they like the Kong softfelt baseball too.

    Reply
  7. Gillowgirl
    April 22, 2017 at 2:30 pm (3 years ago)

    Advice on feeding depresses me because you can’t force a cat to eat what it doesn’t want. A few years ago I adopted a wonderful cat with horrendous forles disease. Our wonderful vet educated me on raw whole food. My cat loved it but could only eat a tiny amount at a time. In summer the food went off within a short time as it contained the whole prey which included offal. She then wouldn’t eat it so we had to compromise. We had to let Lucy go to sleep and adopted two from Cats Protection. They were fed on a very high carb low protein food as obviously a charity couldn’t afford better. We tried all sorts of high meat wet foods but they decided on a 45% wet food. They also shared a raw chicken breast. Evening they had a few dried kibbles to get them used to it as I can’t exp my elderly neighbour to feed them four times a day when I’m away. To my dismay they will now only eat the kibble. It’s 75% game and no grain but I’m not happy. Gypsy who had a trauma to the head, which tore her mouth still didn’t want soft food so lost a lot of weight while recovering. I feel so aweful when I read how to feed cats because I know raw whole prey is best but my cats won’t do it!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 22, 2017 at 2:44 pm (3 years ago)

      While you may not be able to force a cat to eat something she doesn’t want, there’s a lot you can do to transition cats to a healthier diet. Perhaps this article will help: http://consciouscat.net/2014/12/22/ask-cat-vet-transition-cat-healthy-diet/

      Don’t feel bad – you’re educating yourself, and trying to do the best you can. While a whole raw diet may be optimal, there are other healthy alternatives that may be more palatable for dry food addicts.

      Reply
  8. Vets in Cheshire
    September 25, 2015 at 10:14 am (4 years ago)

    Excellent article and very important topic. Stimulation is very important to keeping a cat active I feel and do cat’s really need so many treats when it comes to food? They can be really bad for them.

    Reply
  9. Barry Farris
    September 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm (4 years ago)

    In a recent article in Mother Earth News, August/September 2015, referenced a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that has shown a direct relationship between artificial soy and obesity. Because the study involved about the highest level of study, the implications are of great benefit to both cats and humans.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 2, 2015 at 5:58 am (4 years ago)

      I’m not surprised at all to hear this, Barry. Unfortunately, many of the lower quality brands of cat food (and often, these are well-known brands) substitute meat protein with soy, since it’s cheaper.

      Reply
  10. Denise
    August 31, 2015 at 12:20 pm (4 years ago)

    How do you know what the recommende weight is for your Cat? I have one kitty who I was told she should weigh 10 Lb. she has reached her goal on Hillss Metabolic prescription dry and wet food. I am nervous about how to proceed I also have a big Tom cat. He has always had a weight problem(15-17 lb at the moment has been as high as 20) he also has had bouts of diarrhea and is on a single ingredient wet venison Royal canin prescription and low cal Royal Canin dry. He gets 1/4 cup dry Am & PM and 1/8 of wet in AM and PM My other 2 kitties are normal wet. I want to get them all on safe grain free diet. I am afraid to do raw The normal kitties are on Wellness Wet Beef and Chicken canned. And same and Royal Canin dry. Please help me get a bit more detailed instructions on how to help my kitties transition to a healthier grain free diet w/on at gain when I asked my vet about grain free high protein she said it was going to make them fatter. Help.

    Reply
  11. Ilse Devriese
    August 31, 2015 at 9:45 am (4 years ago)

    I second the environmental enrichment part, especially! I’ve had some great results by introducing a food bowl that forces the cats to paw out the food – it keeps them from gorging, overeating, and makes it into a fun game

    Reply
  12. Fur Everywhere
    August 31, 2015 at 7:31 am (4 years ago)

    Thanks for this information. I’ll ask our vet about these supplements. Carmine and Lita take l-lysine daily already to help with their immune systems. Our situation is a bit complicated, but we really need to help Lita lose a bit of weight – she isn’t obese, but she does weigh a little more than her ideal.

    If you have any ideas on how to get her motivated to play, please share with me. She used to LOVE her Neko fly, but now she won’t play with it at all when I bring it out.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 31, 2015 at 10:43 am (4 years ago)

      Sometimes, it can help to rotate toys. I often “hide” toys and then bring them back out a few weeks later, and the girls act like they just got a new toy.

      Reply
  13. Summer
    August 31, 2015 at 4:09 am (4 years ago)

    My human has always thought those feeding recommendations on cat food cans were NUTS! She’d never feed a cat that much. We eat about as much as you recommend here… and none of us are overweight.

    Reply

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